February 4, 2023

Block that; Hatchet returns to Dodge City

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Scoring Summary

Garden City Offense

Garden City Defense

Dodge City Offense

Dodge City Defense

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Garden City, KS (westernkansasnews.com)-Snap back, placement good, the kick is blocked; the kicked is blocked with 1:05 remaining. That call will live forever in one of the most historic rivalries in the state of Kansas.

For Garden City, it’s something they hope they never have to relive. In fact, Buffaloes Coach Brian Hill might pull a Rex Ryan and destroy the game film. Unfortunately he won’t have the hatchet to use to bury it.

Following Jesse Nunez’s one-yard touchdown run that pulled the Buffaloes to within a single point with 65 seconds to play, Dodge City defensive end Noah Williams quickly quieted the screaming faithful on the home side of the field. The senior bull rushed into the backfield and blocked Zeke Herrera’s line-drive extra point, securing the Red Demons’ improbable 21-20 victory Friday night at Buffalo Stadium in the 78th Hatchet Game.

The loss eliminated the Buffaloes from playoff contention for the second straight year, and clinched the Western Athletic Conference title for Dodge City.

“It’s extremely disappointing,” a distraught Hill said after the game. “To lose a game like that, it’s not an easy thing to do.”

For Dodge City Coach Dave Foster, it was the culmination of what could have been.

“These kids played their hearts out,” he said, trying to catch his breath after the game. “We didn’t have the greatest week of practice, but I put them in a room on Thursday and said we’re not leaving until we get this figured out. We worked out a lot of issues in that room. If that conference doesn’t happen, we don’t win this game.”

That conference seemed necessary, especially after the Red Demons suffered through one of their worst losses in program history just seven days earlier. Foster’s team allowed 713 total yards in a 72-34 beat down at the hands of Hutchinson.

On Friday night, there were no remnants of that team.

Coming into week nine, the Red Demons were allowing over 400 yards per game-325 of that they were giving up on the ground. In fact, the Salthawks gashed them for 600 in week eight. In their season finale, Dodge City (5-4, 4-0) held one of the most potent running attacks in the state to 125 yards on 38 carries.

Transformation complete.

“That’s one thing about a big rivalry game is that these kids will never forget this night,” Foster said.

If the guys at Caesar’s Palace in Vegas put a line on this game, knowing what happened the week prior at Hutch, Garden City (7-2, 1-2) would have been installed as 10-point favorites. Especially with the Buffaloes only having to win to get into the playoffs once Wichita Northwest beat the Salthawks earlier in the night.

If that was the case, once again, the so-called experts got it dead wrong.

Following a three-and-out on Dodge City’s opening possession, Garden City got the ball at the Dodge City 33. But on Peyton Hill’s first carry, he was stripped by Zach Rodriguez, and Dodge City recovered near the 30.

“Jason Sheck, my defensive coordinator does a great job,” Foster said, referencing his team’s revitalized effort on that side of the ball. “I’ve been trying to get him to come from Elk City for the past four years.”

After the takeaway, the Red Demons moved the ball to the Garden City 43. But Walters’s third-down pass to Dayton McGroarty was incomplete, and Dodge City was forced to punt.

The Buffaloes finally broke the scoreless tie in the first two minutes of the second quarter, when Jesse Nunez bullied his way for a seven-yard rushing touchdown, capping off a seven-play 55-yard drive. But Herrera pushed the extra point wide left, and Garden City led 6-0 with 10:18 left until half time.

Garden City had a chance to break the game open later in the second quarter. But after picking up a first down on third-and-1, Nunez had the ball knocked out of his hands on the very next play, and Tylor Garcia recovered for Dodge City at the Buffaloes 28.

“We made way too many mistakes,” Hill said. “We gave them so many opportunities.”

Walters made Garden City pay seconds later when he connected with Eric Reid on a 28-yard touchdown pass. On the play, the speedy receiver beat Thomas Marquez, hauling in the perfect spiral over his left shoulder. McGroarty booted through the extra point, and the Red Demons had a 7-6 edge.

The score would stay that way going into the third quarter. That’s when Foster changed the complexity of the game with one subtle chess move.

Last week, Wichita Northwest Coach Steve Martin caught Garden City off guard when he used wide receiver Alex Bott as a wildcat quarterback. The result: 118 yards rushing and three touchdowns.

So no one should have been surprised when Foster made the move to use Reid in the same way. And once again the Buffaloes were powerless to stop it.

On Dodge City’s first possession of the second half, Reid ran the ball five times for 29 yards, which included a 14-yard burst on second-and-11 from their own 39 and a four-yard blast where he ran over Patrick Clifford en route to the end zone. The score finished off an 11-play 60-yard drive that gave the Red Demons a 14-6 lead with 4:38 left in the period.

“We hit them right in the teeth,” Foster said. “Eric is such a great kid with a huge heart, and he wanted this.”

The Buffaloes responded like they have all season long, moving the ball 59 yards in four plays, thanks in large part to Gabe Otero’s 38-yard reception that set the brown and white up at the Dodge City 15. But the drive nearly ended when, on third down-and-9, Nunez tried to put the ball behind his back and lost it. Alex Frey though saved the day, and Garden City was staring at a fourth-and-17 back at the Red Demons’ 22.

Trailing by eight, Hill kept the offense on the field. The gamble paid huge dividends when Nunez found Clifford, who streaked by Reid down the right sideline for the score. The junior quarterback then hit Demarcus Elliot in the back of the end zone for two, and the game was tied 14-14 with 1:38 to play in the third.

“I’m very proud of these kids,” Hill said. “We responded, and had every chance to win this game.”

But every time it appeared the Buffaloes had stolen the momentum, Dodge City bounced right back.

Walters responded by calmly marching the Demons 66 yards in eight plays, converting two third downs-the second of those going for six. On third-and-goal from the six, the Buffaloes sent an all-out-blitz at the senior signal caller. But Walters instinctively rolled left and threw a pellet to Reid in the end zone for a touchdown. McGroarty’s extra point split the uprights, and the Red Demons had a 21-14 edge with 10:45 to play.

“It’s a great feeling to do this with this group of kids,” Foster said. “I mean we have six seniors sitting on the sideline that couldn’t play.”

After Garden City’s next drive stalled at the Dodge City 31, the Red Demons had a chance to ice the game. And it appeared the celebration would start after Walters found Bryce Unruh for a 12-yard gain on third-and-8 at their own 33. But the play was nullified by an illegal block, and Dodge City eventually punted the ball away, giving Garden City one last chance with less than two minutes to go.

“We felt we had the momentum in the end,” Hill said. “It’s definitely tough to swallow.”

With no timeouts starting from their own 46, Nunez moved quickly, hitting Otero for 26 yards and Lapointe for six down to the Red Demons 22. From there, the drive was aided by a pass interference call on McGroarty in the end zone, putting the ball at the 11. Three plays later, Nunez called his own number and blasted in from a yard out, pulling the Buffaloes to within one with 1:05 remaining.

“We were at home, so I believed the right call there was to go for the tie,” Hill said. “I felt we had it if the game went to overtime.”

Unfortunately for Hill, it never got that far.

There’s been some incredible moments in the 118 years of this series, but Williams block will go down as one of the biggest special teams’ play in the Hatchet game’s history.

“This is a lifetime memory for these kids,” Foster said. “That’s what we talked about in our meeting. These guys will never forget this.”

Walters finished 8-of-18, for 114 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed it 13 times for 47 yards, 45 of that coming on one run during their last scoring drive. Reid rushed for 29 yards on six carries while hauling in four balls for 57 and two scores.

On the other side, Nunez completed 12-of-24 passes for 198 yards and a touchdown while carrying it 23 times for 75 yards and two touchdowns. Koster finished with 11 carries for 36, and Otero caught a team-best three balls for 87 yards.

Notes: With the loss, and Hutchinson’s seven-point loss to Wichita Northwest, the Buffaloes were eliminated from the playoffs because of the district points tie breaker (Hutch finished with two district points; the Buffaloes with minus-6 and Dodge City minus-39)…The win marked the first time Dodge City clinched the WAC title and the Hatchet in the same year since 2010…It’s the Red Demons first victory in Garden City since 2009…Patrick Clifford left the game following his fourth-down touchdown grab; it was later learned he had suffered a concussion…It’s the first time during Hill’s tenure that the Buffaloes missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons…It’s the Buffaloes first seven-win regular season since 2000-ironically that year James Mireles’s team finished 7-2 and also missed the playoffs…Dodge City missed the playoffs for the third consecutive season…The win snapped an eight-game district losing streak for Dodge City (first district win since beating the Buffaloes in 2012)…Dodge City now leads the all-time series 72-43 with three ties…The Red Demons own a 40-25 mark with two ties in Garden City